Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump Speaks To The Nations of The World



At the United Nations. The message that was put into his mouth (perhaps by Stephen Miller)  is one of patriotic ethno-nationalism, of strong nation states putting themselves first, of big military expenditures guaranteeing future peace and prosperity.   Giving a speech like that is a little bit like spitting in the eye of the UN which was, of course, created as a more international attempt to maintain peace.

The speech also lists Trump's enemies:  North Korea, Iran,  Cuba and Venezuela, and mentions his "frenemy,"  Saudi Arabia, twice.   First in a slightly positive indirect way:

In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them.


But later the speech is slightly more negative, hinting at a criticism of Saudi Arabia as one unidentified party with egregious human rights records that sits on the UN Human Rights Council:

For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Mmm.  And from 2018, Saudi Arabia will also sit on the UN Women's Rights Commission!  What miraculous value-compromises the ownership of oil produces!  Actually, that the worst violator of women's human rights gets to sit on that commission proves to me the sense of sadistic humor us divine creators possess.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Short Missives From Trump Reich, 9/18/17: Trump As New Normal, Health Insurance As No Insurance and Republican Women's Federation


1.  Jay Rosen has written about the normalization of Trump as president.*  His list of six simple points is worth reading, and so is his explanation why they conflict with the fact that millions and millions of American voters decided that this carnival barker was a good idea for the most powerful man in the world.  How does a journalist stay polite to those voters, while telling the truth about Donald Trump?

2.  The Graham-Cassidy plan to kill Obamacare dead at the last possible moment is a weird one.  Many believe that it's not a viable candidate at all, just a gesture, but who knows?  Its anatomy is the same as that of all the earlier attempts:  Move money up the income hierarchy, as high up as possible, and let insurers discriminate against customers almost as much as they wish:

In reality, Graham-Cassidy is the opposite of moderate. It contains, in exaggerated and almost caricature form, all the elements that made previous Republican proposals so cruel and destructive. It would eliminate the individual mandate, undermine if not effectively eliminate protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and slash funding for subsidies and Medicaid. There are a few additional twists, but they’re all bad — notably, a funding formula that would penalize states that are actually successful in reducing the number of uninsured.

Haven't we been here twice already, fighting the attempts to abolish the Affordable Care Act?

The fatigue of resistance!  The fatigue of having to fight the same wars, over and over again, while the Republicans just rearrange the chess board and start another round.  The battles are asymmetric, because the opposition is scattered and needs to be reassembled and reactivated every time, while the powers-that-be have full-time workers organizing the next atrocity.

In any case, the best strategy is to fight the Graham-Cassidy bill as if it was a serious plan, even if it isn't, just in case it then becomes one, due to our fatigue.  See how stacked the games are?

3.  This is the picture of the press conference which announced the birth of the Graham-Cassidy bill:




So many fathers...

Which brings me to the National Federation of Republican Women which had their biennial convention in Philadelphia last weekend.  The website of the federation tells us that it has been "engaging and empowering women since 1938," but

Allison Ball, 36, told the assembled delegates — the women’s wing of the GOP, bedecked in Trump pins and American-flag scarves — how instrumental the women of the party had been in her successful campaign for Kentucky state treasurer. How important it was to encourage more women to run for office.
Still, Ball said, grinning: The crowd in the ballroom “prove there’s no such thing as women’s issues. Only people’s issues.”
It was a theme the federation, at Philadelphia’s Downtown Marriott for its 39th biennial meeting, would return to throughout the weekend — a convention for women, organized by women, that kept insisting that the necessity of political action on behalf of women is a fantasy of the left.
 The bolds they are mine.  I like that confusion, by the way:  There are no women's issues, but more women should be encouraged to run for office.

But nothing stops them from running already, given that there are no women's issues.  Or if there are such issues, they are the women's own fault (nothing to do with what they are taught at church or in their communities):

Women are more likely to assume they’re not qualified for office, and “Republican women tend to be very oriented around raising a family,” said Cynthia Ayers, who spent two decades in the National Security Agency and is running in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary next year. “Men don’t necessarily keep that in mind when running for office. It’s harder for women to break in at that point. And the funding seems to be there for men when they run.

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* hat tip to ql at Eschaton for the link









Friday, September 15, 2017

The Birka Viking Warrior Burial. A Female Warrior Or Not?

Archeologists in Sweden have had a new look at a very famous Viking-era burial in Birka, Sweden.  The grave goods in the burial are many and associated with warfare:

a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields, and two horses, one mare and one stallion; thus, the complete equipment of a professional warrior. Furthermore, a full set of gaming pieces indicates knowledge of tactics and strategy...
Thus, the grave has always been interpreted as a warrior grave, though some researchers in the 1970s suggested that the bones of the buried warrior demonstrated female characteristics.  This new study applies both osteology and DNA sequencing and argues that the results show that the grave was that of a tall woman who had died in her thirties.

It's fun to Google this topic.  Many of the headlines one finds that way state that "a Viking warrior was a woman" or that "new research that women were Viking warriors" or that the "debate about whether women were Viking warriors" has been ignited.  Some criticisms of the study argue that no such conclusion can be drawn from the findings.

And of course we can't draw such conclusions about the possible gender roles of the Viking era from one single grave, and neither can we draw any such conclusions about the ancient world, in general, even though several other recent findings argue that  women have been buried with weapons and stereotypically male tools in other parts of Europe and Asia, too. As if they had been warriors, that is.

Let's take a step back and ask the following question:  Suppose that you find an ancient grave, the bones in it are female, and the grave goods consist of pots and pans and weaving tools.  What would your conclusions about that ancient person's role be?

Most of us very readily accept that she cooked and wove fabric, that her grave goods described her job during her life.  Very very few would bother wondering if we really can make such a conclusion. 

So why is it so much harder to apply the same logic to the Birka warrior grave?

The answer is an easy one.  The example I made up agrees with our prior expectations, our understanding of history and our biases, if you will, whereas the Birka example does not.  Yet we don't know, exactly,  how men and women in the Viking-age Sweden divided chores between them.  Some women (how many we can't tell) may indeed have been warriors, and a few women may have been the kind of military leaders Elizabeth I of England was, which could have been reflected in how they were buried.

We cannot be certain, of course.  At the same time,  it's long been customary* to sex ancient burials by the included grave goods, so that if cooking and weaving implements (or jewelry) were found to be in the majority, the grave was assumed to belong to a woman, while weapons and the kinds of tools which code male today were used as the basis for designating a particular burial male. 

These rules used the gender roles that prevailed in the archeologists' own cultures, or had recently prevailed in them, but even after knowing that it can be difficult to see that in-built bias they contain.

All that is worth keeping in mind when reading this criticism of the study, too:

Writing on her blog, University of Nottingham professor of Viking studies Judith Jesch says, "I have always thought (and to some extent still do) that the fascination with women warriors, both in popular culture and in academic discourse, is heavily, probably too heavily, influenced by 20th- and 21st-century desires." Today, many of us are eager to find examples of woman leaders in the past who are just as badass as our woman leaders today. And that might lead to misunderstanding history.
That's a bias worth keeping in mind.  But so is the opposite bias I discuss above.

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** Especially when no bones etc. survived.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Random Thoughts on Facebook



Isn't Facebook wonderful?  In a few short moments you can check on all your friends, learn what they had for dinner or lunch and see how they look in their Facebook pictures, as compared to real life.  There's practically no need to ever talk to anyone outside the cyberspace, as is easily seen by noticing how people having dinner together are all staring into their own cell phones.  Mmm.  Alone together.

I'm not particularly fond of Facebook for all sorts of reasons, some personal but some political.  Among the latter is the fact that Facebook is almost a worldwide monopoly in social media, that it's policies about advertising and news dissemination affect millions and millions, yet it's not viewed as a regulated utility or even held accountable in any meaningful legal sense.  It doesn't have to check that the news it transmits are factual, and what can be posted on Facebook depends on what Facebook decides can be posted*, including Russian ads (fake news) intended to affect American elections.

We are still living in the lawless Wild West era (as depicted by movies) of online communication, and one day, perhaps, regulations will specify the rights and responsibilities of such "platforms" as Facebook and eBay and other cyber-firms which insist** that they are simply technical tools when it benefits them, which insist that they are marketplaces when it benefits them, and which insist that they are firms when that benefit them.  But only social media firms will have to face the question whether they are direct political players or not.  Right now one man, Mark Zuckerberg, wields enormous power over what information those who consume their news in the social media receive.

All this is uncharted territory.

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* Users can ask for certain pages to be removed, and Facebook will decide if that happens or not.  Past campaigns by various organizations (including feminist ones) may have succeeded in making Facebook moderation a little better when it comes to outright hate speech, but it's not that difficult to open a new page when the previous one has been closed.

Then there are ghastly videos of murders and such.  The New York Times wrote this last April, in the context of covering one murder posted on Facebook:

Now Facebook is facing a backlash over the shooting video, as it grapples with its role in policing content on its global platform.
It is an issue that Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has had to contend with more frequently as it has bet big on new forms of media like live video, which give it a venue for more lucrative advertising.

Note the reference to "lucrative advertising."  That's the firm-version of Facebook, the one which tries to make sure that you can't avoid seeing ads when you check what's happening with your friends and family.

Note, also, that Facebook moderates some postings only because it decided to do so.

**  The cyber-firms are usually all of those things.  We don't have a very good understanding of how such behemoths should be regulated or treated, what the long-run consequences of their power might be and so on.
 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hillary Clinton, Get Thee Into The Wilderness!



I adore the coverage of Hillary Clinton's new book about the 2016 elections!  To see why, first read this piece "Hillary, Time To Exit The Stage."  Then read this fun piece, along (somewhat) similar lines: "It's Time For Hillary Clinton To Gracefully Bow Out of Public Life, Along With All Other Women."

The demands that Hillary Clinton pack her suitcases and gets a one-way ticket to the heart of the sun are psychologically interesting.  Why not just ignore her book if she so annoys particular journalists or readers?  And if she is as unpopular as Doug Schoen writes in the first article I link to, why would it matter what such an unpopular ice queen from vampire hell might scribble?  Go for a walk or bicker about something else in politics, Doug.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

On Pornography And Misogyny: Questions.


The UK Guardian interviews two film-makers, David Simon and George Pelecanos,  who have created a new TV drama on the impact of porn in the US.  A few snippets:

Simon continues: “There was always a market for prostitution, and even pornography existed below the counter in a brown paper bag, but there wasn’t an industry; that had yet to find its full breadth in terms of the American culture and economy, but we all know what was coming.
“It’s now a multibillion dollar industry and it affects the way we sell everything from beer to cars to blue jeans. The vernacular of pornography is now embedded in our culture. Even if you’re not consuming pornography, you’re consuming its logic. Madison Avenue has seen to that.”

...

Pornography “affected the way men and women look at each other, the way we address each other culturally, sexually,” he says. “I don’t think you can look at the misogyny that’s been evident in this election cycle, and what any female commentator or essayist or public speaker endured on the internet or any social media setting, and not realise that pornography has changed the demeanour of men. Just the way that women are addressed for their intellectual output, the aggression that’s delivered to women I think is informed by 50 years of the culturalisation of the pornographic.”
The bolds are mine.

An interesting hypothesis, and one which I would dearly love to see properly studied*.

I have earlier written about one of my great fears:

That many teenagers get their "sex education" from porn which may be contemptuous of women, which may be violent or even outright misogynistic.  Even at its most innocent level, porn is not meant to be the depiction of real human relationships.  It's fluff candy for its consumers, intended for masturbation, and since the majority of its consumers are heterosexual men, the women acting in porn naturally pretend to ultimately like everything the men in porn do to them, however much they initially resist. 

Now I have been given a second possible fear about the false lessons that can be learned from misogynistic porn, sigh.**

Pelecanos, the second film-maker that was interviewed in the piece,  suggest that the way men talk to each other about women has changed in ways which don't seem completely random:

Pelecanos, 60, thinks about the two sons he raised and the conversations he overheard when their friends came to the family home. “The way they talk about girls and women is a little horrifying. It’s different from when I was coming up. It’s one thing what was described as locker-room talk, like, ‘Man, look at her legs. I’d love to…’ – that kind of thing. But when you get into this other thing, calling girls tricks and talking about doing violence to them and all that stuff, I’d never heard that growing up, man. I just didn’t.

Is that change because of pornography, or because others say similar things online and it then becomes acceptable, perhaps even a male bonding device?  These explanations don't have to be mutually exclusive, of course.  Those who consume the most misogynistic pornography may go online and menace women, and then that infection spreads to others.

I never enjoy writing about this topic, because the debate that usually follows tends to veer to all sorts of pornography, not just the clearly misogynistic type, and because it seldom distinguishes between private consumption choices and possible negative externalities.  Also because I get called a prude and told that I can rip the porn out of someone's cold hands only after they are dead and so on.

Yet it is only the possible harmful externalities (effects on third parties, other than the producer and consumer of a particular piece of porn) of woman-hating pornography that I want to address in this post, the possibility that   

"Even if you’re not consuming pornography, you’re consuming its logic. Madison Avenue has seen to that.”  
We need more studies of those possible externalities, because if they exist and if they are large, well, then we women are f**ked.


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*  That would be a difficult endeavor, but not impossible.  We could, for instance, collect data on people's pornography consumption, on their online trolling behavior and its contents and on their general views about women.  There's a chicken-and-egg problem that needs to be solved, though.  See ** for more on that.

**  There are several possible theories, in addition to any direct impact of violent, misogynistic or demeaning porn on cultural views about women.  For instance:

1.  It could be that those who view misogynistic pornography do so, because they already hate women and get turned on by seeing violence done on women, say. 

That misogynistic online speech seems to be a growth industry does not have to mean that the levels of misogyny in the society are rising because of the widespread consumption of online pornography. After all, those consumers who choose to consume it have chosen a particular type of pornography, presumable because it excites them.

Thus, there might have been a large pool of hidden misogyny which is now breaking out on the surface, given that online opinions are mostly anonymous and usually don't result in social sanctions.  In short, we may be inadvertently validating the expression of misogynistic views by letting them go unchallenged.

2.  Something else may have changed during the most recent decades, and that "something else" may be the reason why we observe more open misogyny.  One possible candidate for that "something else" is the considerably improved position of women in the society and the general backlash which has resulted (the MRA movement etc.).  In that sense the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the advances women have made in politics could trigger dormant fears of women "taking over everything!" and also  desires to re-define women's roles as less powerful.  Sexual objectification is one way to get there.

3.  Finally, there might be no connection between the consumption of misogynistic pornography and the extent of expressed misogyny.  It's hard to measure how common the latter is, in any case, because just a small group of very busy trolls can leave their scat on several online sites.  A good study might be able to help us here.







Thursday, September 07, 2017

Lady Justice on Campus: Show Us Your Tits! Or Betsy DeVos on Campus Sexual Assault.



Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education,  is planning to rewrite the rules on how sexual assault is to be treated under Title IX on college campuses:

Saying that the Obama administration’s approach to policing campus sexual assault had “failed too many students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.
Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights.
“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” she said in an address at George Mason University in suburban Arlington, Va. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”

Nope, Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today, but she might be naked, or at least should show us her tits.

Let's leave aside the important question how best to police and prosecute sexual assault on campuses.  Let's, instead, make a note of the most obvious aspect of this speech:

DeVos is doing Trump's bidding and filling his promises to his base.  This move is part and parcel of this administration's war against uppity women.  In that it's linked to what the administration is attempting in the labor markets by making it harder for women and/or minorities to sue employers for discrimination, and in what the administration is attempting to do when it comes to violence against women.  It's also linked to Pence's hoary Christian patriarchal values and his wish for forced-birth rules for women.  These all share a certain sense of "putting women back into their proper places."

Note, also, how DeVos was appointed by a president who openly boasted about pussy grabbing.  In such an atmosphere banners like these meeting new first-year students and their families are just innocent fun and not a symbol of perhaps a certain kind of sexual entitlement:



Finally, note, once again, this common refrain I've seen so many times when the media writes about sexual assault:

Critics of the Obama administration’s guidance to colleges complained that it was unfair to use a standard of proof that was far lower than that used in criminal law, since disciplinary actions and expulsions that result from ambiguous sexual encounters can stigmatize young men long into the future, affecting their educational and job prospects. The critics argued that if sexual assault had, in fact, taken place, it should be a matter for the police.
It is that concern for the future effects on the accused that is the common refrain, and it is not applied to only those who have had "ambiguous" sexual encounters, but even more widely:  to those who have clearly committed the crime they were accused of.

Yet I rarely see similar reminders of the stigmatizing effects of rape on the future of the young women and how that might affect their educational and job prospects, not to mention their mental health, or how such stigma might become even stronger if the perpetrator of the crime walks free (perhaps because his future is more important than hers).

I want to make absolutely clear that falsely sentencing or punishing the innocent is wrong and its consequences dreadful.  But not sentencing or punishing the guilty is not right, either.

Since many rape or sexual assault cases do not have the kind of evidence which every single person would deem sufficient*,  the probabilities of someone being convicted depend on the rules which are used by those judging the cases.  DeVos seems to be proposing to make those rules stricter on campuses, by demanding that the current "preponderance of evidence" rule be replaced by "clear and convincing" standards of proof.

What that might mean in practice is this:

Some of those wrongly accused of sexual assault might not be unfairly punished.  But some actual sexual assault, too, would go unpunished, both because the the evidence did not reach that "clear and convincing" level, even though it might have exceeded 50% of all evidence, and because fewer victims of sexual assault would bother to report the attacks.  Whether such changes would increase the number of sexual assaults on campus is not clear to me.

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*  It really is crucial here to remember that most victims of sexual assault, worldwide, do not go to the police or other authorities, and this seems to be the pattern on US campuses, too.  Thus, it's fairly rare for a random perpetrator to be convicted,  but very strict rules about what type of evidence is viewed as "clear and convincing" reduce the likelihood even further.  — If we call those falsely accused the "false positives" (as in a medical test), then there clearly is a very large number of "false negatives" in the general population.